Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rediscovering Octavio Paz

One of the most enjoyable musical experiences I had with the Knox College Choir was singing Eric Whitacre's choral works. They're very contemporary tone poems that typically draw from preexisting texts. Frequently, Whitacre found inspiration in the poems of Mexican poet Octavio Paz.

When I was at Knox, I remember searching for a Paz collection in the library, and I was fortunate enough to find a bilingual collection (Paz wrote exclusively in Spanish). I'm usually not a poetry person. I don't understand it. But something about Paz clicked for me, and there was one poem in particular that struck me. It was beautiful in so many ways. Its images were beautiful. Its language was beautiful. And it was heartbreakingly sad.

This poem fell by the wayside until I saw the Knox College Choir in Castello d'Empuries this past Sunday and bought the CD from their 2006 Spain tour. Laura dipped into the Whitacre well again, and Whitacre dipped into the Paz well, also. Track #11 is the poem I found back in Galesburg, "A Boy And A Girl."

[Los Novios]

Tendidos en la yerba
una muchacha y un muchacho.
Comen naranjas, cambian besos
como las olas cambian sus espumas.

Tendido en la playa
una muchacha y un muchacho.
Comen limones, cambian besos
como las nubes cambian espumas.

Tendidos bajo tierra
una muchacha y un muchacho.
No dicen nada, no se besan,
cambian silencio por silencio.

[A Boy and a Girl]

Stretched out on the grass,
a boy and a girl.
Savoring their oranges, giving their kisses
like waves exchanging foam.

Stretched out on the beach,
a boy and a girl.
Savoring their limes, giving their kisses
like clouds exchanging foam.

Stretched out underground,
a boy and a girl.
Saying nothing, never kissing,
giving silence for silence.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Quick Quiz

What do Star Trek: Voyager, DeGrassi Jr. High, Lost, and Hangin' With Mr. Cooper all have in common?

They all took place in an autistic boy's head!

What?! According to this guy, who obviously has too much time on his hands but is awesome nonetheless, they all take place in Tommy Westphall's head. So who's Tommy Westphall? He's the surprise twist ending in the final episode of St. Elsewhere, when it was revealed that the whole series was nothing but a daydream that took place in Tommy's autistic mind. So how do we get from there to the United Federation of Planets/Canada/The Island/Oakland?

The logic goes like this. At some point, there was a crossover episode between St. Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the Streets where one of the docs was investigated for murder. Therefore, since Homicide characters interacted with fictional St. Elsewhere characters, it also took place in Tommy Westphall's head. But Homicide had crossovers, too. Those crossovers had crossovers. And before you know it, there are 282 shows existing within the same fictional sphere, all of which are figments of Tommy's imagination. Some are obvious (e.g. all those TGIF shows on ABC that did crossovers all the time), some are less so (e.g. the connection between The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which involves a fictional cigarette brand). It's like a cracked-out version of Three Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

For example:
St. Elsewhere to Lost (Four Steps)
St. Elsewhere's aforementioned doctor was investigated for murder on Homicide.
John Munch from Homicide questions the Lone Gunmen from The X-Files.
The mugshot from the X-Files episode "Titonus" can be seen in the Veronica Mars episode "Leave it to Beaver"
In another episode, the lucky numbers in Veronica's fortune cookie are the Numbers from Lost.

Crazy, huh?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Obviously, That Last Post Was Susie's

But hey, Radiohead rocks. I'm geeked out.

Reasons why Susie Rules by: Jake

1) She snagged 2 $60 3-day Lollapalooza tickets before they sold out, without even knowing who would be playing.

2) Radiohead will be playing at Lollapalooza.

The End.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

¡Infección, infección!

Yes, that is what the doctor proclaimed after looking in my throat and loudly exclaiming, "¡Uf!" As I am ordered bed rest for the next few days (which I have also interpreted to mean couch rest), I thought I should catch up on the blog. (On a somewhat related note, I also plan to *finally* put some pictures up on Flickr.)

This is my second illness in the past month, though I think this one is related to the nasty bout of flu I had a few weeks ago. Needless to say, these past few weeks haven't been all that exciting, as I have either been sick, recovering, or taking care of Jake when he caught the flu. However, the past two weekends have been gorgeous and Jake and I have been able to take advantage of the nice weather and explore the outdoors a bit--going to the botanical gardens, the nearby gardens of Putxet, and visiting Montjuic. Work is good--things with the study abroad program have been busy as there are 30 students this term, but the students are a good bunch of kids. My English lessons have been going really well--two of my students who had previously been failing English received very good grades on their latest exams, so I am quite pleased.

Basically, aside from illness, life here in Barcelona is good. I am hoping to be fully recovered in time for our spring break trip to France!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

This Will Take Some of the Sting Out

Barça are through to the Champions League quarterfinals (4 - 2 aggregate), but they'll now have to do without the services of Leo Messi a/k/a the Lord God Almighty for six weeks, since he tore his quad last night. But this will take some of the sting out:

AS Roma 2 - 1 Real Madrid (February 19)
Real Madrid 1 - 2 AS Roma (March 5)
AS Roma 4 - 2 Real Madrid (Aggregate)

'Deu, Merengues; don't let the door hit you on the way out!

Monday, March 3, 2008


One of the blogs I follow on Google Reader is Smashing Telly, a collection of videos, generally long-form, that have found their way to the internet. Today featured a clip from the art film Koyaanisqatsi centered on St. Louis' own failed Pruitt-Igoe housing complex. I'd seen this before, though I haven't yet had the chance to watch all of Koyaanisqatsi, and the more I watch it, the more I'm fascinated by it.

The film takes its name from the Hopi word meaning life out of balance, as I continue to view this section of the film, I come to realize just how out of balance city living can be. Yes, living in a city has innumerable advantages. Yes, city living gives us access to public transportation and other simply ways to address environmental change. Yes, the city gives us culture (symphonies, ballet, theatre, etc.) that is hard to find in rural areas. But the honest truth is we didn't evolve to live in cities. Cities remain foreign to our genetic makeup. And sometimes, the city upends our life and throws it out of balance. Consider:

0:00 - 0:38 (Aerial time lapse view of Manhattan) The city is a grid. The city brings order, gives structure.
0:39 - 0:56 (City view along water) Nature bows to the city's order. The water seems a part of the grid. The trees, the only green shown so far, is planted by man and is not part of nature.
0:57 - 1:18 (Panning shot from building to city street, still of two buildings) The growing bass line in the music gives a sense of foreboding, the city seems to press in on us; the order is claustrophobic and stifling.
1:19 - 2:38 (Zoom out and stills from buildings, panning shot to street) The first of several arresting shots. Order in the grid begins to break down. Structure becomes a ruin. When the camera pans, we expect more ruins, like a bombed out Nuremberg, but instead have our first shot of people. These people live among ruin and chaos, but why? The main theme for this piece, a disorienting, dizzying arpeggio is heard for the first time.
2:39 - 2:41 (Girl in window) Perhaps the saddest shot in the piece, a girl leans out of a window, eating a banana. The film implies she's surveying what we have just seen. She receives none of the benefit urban life is supposed to bring.
2:42 - 2:58 (Toilet paper blowing in the wind, interior of Pruitt-Igoe community room, playground) The city is supposed to be a place of action, of excitement. To this point, the only action we have seen are signs of decay and people among the chaos. The vibrant urban landscape is revealed as unmoving except in decay.
2:59 - 3:10 (Broken streetlight, shattered windows) The theme begins a transition to measured repetition, as though order is coming. However, juxtaposed with the shots of urban blight, the scene becomes more oppressive.
3:11 - 3:15 (Circling birds) The circling birds along with the swelling music suggest foreboding. Something monstrous is coming.
3:16 - 4:20 (Pruitt-Igoe aerials) I find the buildings in this shot terrifying. They are the monster. They lack soul. Pruitt-Igoe failed on so many levels, but by trying to plan a "perfect community", rejection and chaos only came sooner. The aerial shot frames the buildings as though they are marching straight at you. Any green we see, any vestige of nature, is dead. A trumpet scale mimics an evacuation siren.
4:21 - 4:35 (Formal window shots) The formal, geometric shots of shattered windows suggest a fundamental design. This decay is not random. For whatever reason, this was unavoidable.
4:36 - 5:16 (Pruitt-Igoe aerials) The menace continues its march toward you. If the order was claustrophobic, chaos is attacking and oppressive. The fact that the shots are not steadied almost makes the buildings appear to be lurching and stumbling, as if in a drunken stupor.
5:17 - 5:42 (Pruitt-Igoe demolition shots) Chaos leads to decay, which in turn leads to destruction. Such is the fate of a failed housing project.
5:43 - 6:32 (Building demolitions) So far, the close up building shots have been of decrepit housing projects for poor minorities. No longer. It's easy to turn a blind eye when you think chaos and decay are side-effects of poverty, a problem that isn't yours. But chaos is shown everywhere. This is your problem, because this is humanity's problem. This is not part of being poor, it's part of being us. To borrow a phrase, things fall apart; the center cannot hold.
6:33 - 6:49 (Explosion) The smoke that had been rushing towards the camera is no longer a primary concern. Shrapnel assaults the viewer, with a piece of metal appearing to strike the camera.
6:50 - 8:11 (Time lapse thunderstorm) Why attempt to build a system that seems destined for chaos? Why live in a city? To escape nature. But nature cannot be escaped, and can overwhelm a city. Nature is moving. Nature is vibrant. The city is stagnant and imobile.
8:12 - 9:30 (Formal glass skyscraper shots) The city tries to hide its chaotic nature in reflective glass. The effect is of nature moving in reverse, suggesting a perversion of the natural order as imposed order looms down on us.
9:31 - 9:43 (Building moves into shadow) One building causes an unnatural solar eclipse with another building. We descend into darkness of our own making.

This piece is haunting on a number of levels. It was made in the 1980's but calls to mind modern occurrences, like 9/11 (building demolitions) and Katrina (nature overwhelms city @ 6:50). It says that if we are the change we've been waiting for, we are also our own worst enemy. If we seek to escape chaos and create a vibrant environment, we escape the very vibrancy we seek. If there is hope, it is in returning to balance. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.

P.S. These are my thoughts after viewing "Pruitt-Igoe" four or five times. I make no claim to their being the end all of filmic interpretation. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Guess Whose Turn It Was To Be Sick?

That's right, it was me! I'm finally back, but what a few days that was. As expected, taking care of sick wife = constant close proximity + germs = SICK! So when I woke up on Wednesday and my throat felt like a softball-sized urchin had been placed in it, I knew I was in for a rough patch. The worst of it was when I woke up on Friday and almost felt normal. I thought it would pass, but the weekend had other plans.

Last weekend, I went to Montjuic and hung out at the art museum. This weekend, I crawled in bed and stayed there. If you come to Barcelona, I recommend the former. To add insult to injury, the weather this weekend was gorgeous, I'm told. Not that the weather here had been bad, but it's been low 50s-ish and today it was grey and misty. Saturday and Sunday? 70 and sunny.

But, I'm ready for a good week. This week sees the return leg of the Barça/Celtic Champions league clash (Barça leads 3-2 and would need something of a meltdown to be eliminated for reasons I'll discuss later), prep for trimester exams (for my students), and clean the apartment. Also, I need to finish my current book, Richard Dawkins' A Devil's Chaplain so that I can reread The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which I'm discussing with my advanced class next Thursday. (I'll plug the book again; it's the best piece of fiction I've read in years and you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't pick it up.) Hopefully by then my next book, The World Without Us will have arrived in the mail, but international post being what it is, I give it a 50/50 shot. It's a wonderful world when much of your to-do list consists of books.
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